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Why Aren’t You Reading Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson?

Now her group sat or stood wandering the room, chilling down in the grey light. The matted reindeer hair of the sleeping bags looked woefully inadequate. Val went back around the corner and sat on Wilson’s cot. She stared at Scott’s empty bed. She had misjudged these men; she had taken other people’s casual superior judgments and accepted them. As if the people who had lived before them in time were somehow smaller because they had lived earlier. Looking through the wrong end of a telescope and saying But they’re all so small. Following their footsteps and then thinking that what they had done was a pointless as following in people’s foot steps. As if they had not been as inteligent and cultured as any living human, and in many ways far more capable. Walk sixteen hundred miles in Antarctica and then judge them, she thought drowsily, head resting against the wooden wall. She heard the voices of her group as the conversation of those odd Brits, those straitlaced young men, strong animals, complex simplicities, running away from Edwardian reality to create their own. Say it was an escape, say it was Peter Pan; why not? Why conform to Edwardian reality, why march into the trenches to die without a whimper? In this little room they had made their world. The first Antarctic chapter of the Why Be Normal Club. Happy at the return of some distant party which had been out of touch for weeks or months, out there on one crazed journey after another, pointless and absurd – the pure existentialism of Antarctica, where they made reality, or at least its very meaning. The pathetic fallacy of the Edwardians or the pathetic accuracy of the postmoderns; nothing much to choose between them; certainly no priority, either of heroic precedence or omniscient subsequence. Just people down here, doing things. Flinging themselves out into the spaces they breathed, to live, to really live, in this their one brief life in the world. They had been in no one’s footsteps.

Click on the image to learn more about the location this excerpt takes place.

The book from which the above text is from and of which I am currently reading, is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica. Written in 1998 directly after his much acclaimed Mars trilogy and really connecting those books to his next trilogy, in spirit at least, the Science in the Capital series; 40 Signs of Rain, 50 Degrees Below, and 60 Days and Counting. Geology majors will love this book. Its descriptions of the white continent are so vivid I sometimes found myself shivering from imagined hypothermia.

Between it’s covers you will find a story told from the perspective of a trio of main characters. Wade is Aid to Senator Case, a eccentric politician who sends his employee down to Antarctica to investigate rumors of strange goings on in the midst of renegotiation of the Antarctic Treaty. Val and X are former lovers, she being a tough yet feminine cold weather guide, and he being a disillusioned General Field Assistant. Their stories will all intertwine around a plot to decide the future of the last great wilderness.

Check it out here on Amazon for as cheap as $0.01 plus $3 shipping.

An 82 year old book, Antarctica, and Hong Kong

I got an fantastic surprise in the mail this week. In the mail was an actual issue of National Geographic from August 1930, not the copy I thought I had ordered. This issue details the “current” event of Richard Byrd’s Expedition to Antarctica in 1928-1930. The thing smells of old attic and antiquity. I love it. I’m keeping it in it’s plastic wrap.

Next, I’ve been reading Antarctic Horror, a very small sub-genre. The masters of which are H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, two authors that are considered pinnacles of the horror genre. They collectively blew my mind this week with their short stories.  These two books are , At the Mountains of Madness, and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.  Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is so chocked full of hardcore geology that if this was reading for the layman, then we have regressed as a people. My only conclusion was that either H.P. was trying to recruit people to geology ( Become a Geologist! Die horribly!) or that it was intended for a learned audience.

I entertained at least a handful of people on my last geology trip to Death Valley by reading excerpts of this book around the campfire. I have been told that I have a pleasant reading voice, I guess sometimes people just listen to the tone and not my words. Either way. I love to entertain people, and I’m happy to do so. (Pro Tip: If you cant hold English together while reading out loud and drinking, switch to Scottish or Irish. These accents were made for tripping over your own tongue. )

Back to the review(cough Spoilers) The Pym text by Edgar Allen Poe was written 100 years before Lovecraft’s short novel. Both of these stories are about the Antarctic, and both are amazing representations of their respective authors work.

I actually yelled at Poe while reading his book. He lead me though a compelling account of canibalisim in the first person! I closed my book for a moment, and exclaimed, ” oh hell no, f*** you Poe, f*** you!” He then leaves the book open at the end, abruptly enclosing a letter from the publisher that tells the reader that the narrative was never finished and that the man who spun his tale to Poe died with the last few chapters in hand.

Don’t give me any spoiler alert crap. The book is 200 years old and is the only novella written by one of America’s premier poets. If you had not read it yet, you wouldn’t have read it without me telling you. 🙂

Anyways, all this brings me to the other interesting item I got in the mail. I didn’t check where I was ordering from apparently (again not paying attention to my online purchases and setting a pattern here), and so I was surprised when a packet from Hong Kong arrived in the mail. I’ve been to Hong Kong myself, but I was still intrigued by obtaining a package from that far off island. Inside was a very nice velvet pocket(?), and not it was not like a cheap little dice bag or something. This was a velvet lined and covered cotton satchel worth at least $20 dollars US, like what you might by to place expensive jewelry in for a gift. Velvet wallet? I dont know quite how to describe it.

Inside was what I had ordered, a cheap pair of headphones and a spare cable for my tablet, but these trinkets were immediately forgotten in favor of this little velvet bag. I kept thinking to my self “What must have this Hong Kong shop thought of the American buyer, to wrap such a mundane purchase in so fine a case?”  I’m just joe shmo, spending like $20 on a spare charger for my tablet, not the Czar of all Russia. Thanks though.

Finaly, I got my Bookcase/Geology Shelves organized. Heres a pic.

That’s all for now. I’ve got an 82 year old National Geographic to read. Away!